Author Topic: Article: Analysis: Is Joe Gauld's educational philosophy what the world needs?  (Read 2037 times)

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Offline survivorami

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Analysis: Is Joe Gauld's educational philosophy what the world needs?

Remember some years ago a movement called Buchmanism: a lot of people getting together in a room and confessing their sins of omission and commission - a kind of alcoholics anonymous on a grape juice jag? The whole thing got retitled Moral Rearmament (MRA) and a tennis player named Bunny Austin made headlines by advocating world changing through life changing, the slogan of Frank Buchman himself.

Well, something of this kind is now used as part of a system of growth through courage which has been put together by a man named Joe Gauld, headmaster of the Hyde School in Bath, an institution not primarily interested in studies but in a system which Gauld says builds character and develops each student's "unique potential."

Gauld, according to his own account, began Hyde School with students who had very little academic talent and many behavioral problems. At that time he introduced a series of procedures which survive today though Hyde is now on its feet.

One of the school's methods of achieving the results they claim consists of class meetings - seminars they call them, though there is nothing remotely academic about the assemblies - at which students and adults alike describe and discuss their shortcomings. I attended a Junior Class seminar.
When the entire class and four or five faculty members were assembled, the faculty leader nodded to one student, who began a semi-articulate account of his sins: failure to relate to people, immaturity, lack of the qualities (unspecified) required of a senior at Hyde.

"I can't see you as a Hyde senior next year," one faculty member remarked, apparently intending his failure of vision to be a reproof. The boy's classmates echoed the statement, and avowed that they had seen signs of the shortcomings the young man had confessed to, though specifics were lacking:

"I feel, you know, that you've been different, you know; that you haven't, you know, quite..."

A girl identified as the accused's sister chimed in: "That's it; you don't treat me as a person; you don't seem to even notice me, and at home I feel... " At this point her tears made her totally inarticulate.

The young man now, with much verbal agony, acknowledged the logic of the several charges made against him and declared himself reformed, aware of his inadequacies, and firm in his resolve to amend his life. He was let off the hook.

After some other confessions in which almost identical "problems" were discussed in almost identical language, attention centered on a boy with a delicate and rather frightened face.

He too confessed to immaturity, and was promptly reminded by his classmates of other faults: stubbornness, excessive intellectuality - "You think too much," they told him - and reticence - "You don't relate to others," was their way of phrasing it.

Many voices from around the room joined in the chorus, faculty as well as students; the young man leaned forward and his eyes glistened perceptibly even behind his glasses. He had little to say of or for himself, and his taciturnity seemed to his accusers one more sign of intransigence.

Suddenly a faculty wife turned on him and said, "Aren't you a Jew?"

Two other students took up this new tack, one saying: "That's it; it's his background he hasn't learned to cope with. He should be a sophomore; he's not mature enough to be a Hyde senior next year."

Presently, despite the young man's protestations that he did not want to be put back to the sophomore class, a vote was suggested, a forest of hands was raised, and the boy was no longer a junior. "How do you feel now?" asked the faculty leader.

The student could manage no reply. He got up, walked from the room, and attempted to shut the sliding door behind him; it stuck.

John Henry Martin, chairman of the National Panel on High Schools and Adolescent Education, in a letter about Hyde School, wrote that a class meeting of the kind I witnessed "could become cruelly abusive of individuals or turn into a pseudo religious public confessional. In fact," his letter, written in 1972, continued, "it is neither." Martin did not say whether he had a chance to talk individually, as I did, with a student who had been subjected to this kind of treatment

After the meeting broke up, I asked the faculty member who had been in charge whether the school had a consulting psychiatrist or if any faculty member present had had psychiatric or psychological training. He said no; that years of working with students were the best guide and provided the knowhow to manipulate the emotions of youngsters. Later I was told that the school had indeed consulted psychiatrists, though just how or in what capacity was not divulged.

During the meeting, several references were made to the "Junior Thing," a phrase which meant something to everyone present except me. I asked what it was.

It seems that in the course of last year the entire Junior Class staged a rebellion because, as one of them put it, they wanted to say the hell with the whole thing. Whether this is an intermediate stage in the process of character development was not explained. What happened was this.

In the middle of one night the juniors all got up, and lured from their beds, by false stories, the Leadership School (a small group of seniors chosen for responsibility), the juniors bound them, and locked them up. Then they proceeded to defy the authority not only of the seniors but of the faculty as well.

The Director of Hyde School, Edward Legg, unaccustomed to coping with so much unique potential all at once, suspended the entire Junior Class, instituted what the kids referred to as martial law, dispatched the juniors to their rooms in disgrace, and then one by one readmitted them to the school - when they had repudiated their behavior and recommitted themselves to conformity. This was the group that sat in judgment on one of their classmates and demoted him for immaturity.

Group therapy is, of course, not new; it has been used in a variety of ways besides Moral Rearmament; for seriously disturbed teen-agers, and for prisoners.

A few weeks ago a man from a prison where such therapy is practiced was interviewed on TV:
"You learn how to judge what they think is right and what they think is wrong," he said, "and you play right along with them." Confessions and commitments are relatively easy to obtain where there is the constant threat of martial law, even the kind of martial law that a school can impose.

Class seminars and martial law are not the only methods of character instruction at Hyde School.
One girl had to shovel a pile of sand to a spot a few feet away and then shovel it back again. Other students deemed potentially unique are persuaded to reform and conform by digging ditches; one young man I saw undergoing this form of development had dug himself in up to his chest.

Tough treatment is the rule at Hyde. The headmaster, who writes a weekly newspaper column, described in one of his articles a Russian schoolmaster, Makarenko, whose struggle "is an inspiration for Hyde School's goal of changing American education." The article goes on to tell how the Russian struck a student, not once but three times, knocking the boy against a stove and then picking him up and hitting him again until the young man whimpered. "Makarenko, Gauld writes, "had a commitment to help these kids, but he faced a hostile educational bureaucracy whose naive let-the-child-express-himself philosophy would constantly harass his efforts." At Hyde there is a certain amount of slapping, and kids get thrown into ponds, but I did not see or hear anything worse than a girl thrown into a pond by some other students. As she fought and kicked and shrieked, four students took her by the arms and legs, swung her out over the water, and dropped her in.

"I'm safe with you," the student I was talking with told me; "they won't grab me here." Then he added, "I'd fight them. I'm agile; I got away by jumping a fence."

"I hadn't cried for nine years before I came to Hyde," one student said. "I'm worried about next year (it was late May when we talked together) but I'll make it. I'm going to work hard at my wrestling."

So much for the Makarenko ideal. As for the Russian's "hostile educational bureaucracy." the leaders of Hyde School feel the same kind of antipathy toward American educators, or as the headmaster calls them, "the educational mafia," which he holds responsible for the ''other system," that is, everything un-Hyde. Simplification is one of the headmaster's talents, allowing him to lump together the whole of American education - public day schools, private boarding schools, girls' seminaries, co-education on the Putney model, free schools, open classroom schools, Montessori schools - in a single category, the "other system."

"Our system," Gauld writes, "will necessarily transform child development today into a new system." And again, "We cannot effect this change through the present system of education; It has no philosophy ..." Nevertheless, Gauld is working hard to spread his gospel through pilot projects modeled on Hyde in places as far removed as Illinois, Long Island, New York, and Westbrook, Maine.

Westbrook Superintendent Harold Hickey, who was asked by Commissioner Carroll McGary to look at Hyde, said, "I'm willing to look and talk but I've got a lot of questions to ask. Character building is fine, commitment is fine, but we've all been doing it for years."

Character building is fine if fine character is what you build. How does anybody know?
If a teenager is publicly humiliated, does this build his character? Does it build the character of other students who are encouraged to take part in such a show?

A friend of mine, an Army doctor who wanted to be sent overseas, went to parachute jump school. He told me that any man who refused to bail out of the plane was made to stand in the middle of the parade ground while the entire company marched past. As they came up to him, each man would turn and say, "You dirty yellow coward."

The products of such a school must be disciplined, conformist, trained to perform a particular (usually a distasteful) task with efficiency and dispatch. Such training is not a matter of building character but of influencing behavior. There is certainly a considerable effect upon a person's character but whether this effect is coarsening or humanizing depends on factors which the training does not take into account.

All that is required of a parachute trooper at the critical moment when his behavior matters is not character but a gut feeling; that's all that is required of a trained dog, and, interestingly enough, Hyde School's director uses an analogy of training dogs to describe part of the process at Hyde. When you ask Hyde School's leaders to explain the core of their philosophy, they say, "It's a gut feeling."

I found myself very much interested in Hyde School's philosophy and methods, particularly because, through Commissioner McGary's influence, there seemed a possibility that they might be adapted for use in public schools here in Maine. Consequently, I looked forward to my interview with Joe Gauld; like Harold Hickey, I had a lot of questions to ask.

It isn't easy to ask Joe Gauld questions. He boasts that he reads very little and learns more easily from people than from the printed page, so that questions about educational theory get short answers. Besides, he is almost aggressively anti-intellectual. "Adults are products of an educational system that only plugs them into intellectual solutions," he retorts. In the quintet of qualities to which Hyde is committed ("Why did you pick those five?" I asked; "wouldn't another five have done as well?" "Sure," answered Director Legg) the only remotely intellectual quality is curiosity.

It's also difficult to ask Gauld questions because he is himself terribly sensitive to criticism - curious in a school where open criticism openly arrived at is the ideal for which the students must undergo emotional and verbal agonies at regulated intervals. And, finally, it's difficult to ask him questions because he thinks with the pit of his stomach. You have to feel it, he says; you have to believe. Questions to him mean doubts; doubts mean unbelief; and there is no room and no hospitality at Hyde for the unbeliever.

What I wanted to ask Gauld was what he meant by a phrase he uses constantly in writing about his methods: "unique potential." "Every human being is endowed with a unique potential. The purpose of life comes alive in its development." (from "An Operational Philosophy of Hyde School").

"In education, any practice of parent, teacher, school, community, or even the individual himself (no one has the right to abuse to potential) should ultimately be measured by the sacredness of unique potential." (from The Hyde School National Commitment, October 15,1973).

I was particularly puzzled because in all I had seen and read of Hyde there seemed to be a contradiction: on the one hand, they believed in and were prepared to use force to exact conformity on the part of every student; on the other, they professed to believe in "unique potential," which seemed to mean individual talent; and to want to discover and develop in each student this quality.

When I pressed Gauld on the point, he clammed up; then suddenly he leaped to his feet and shouted to the school's director, Ed Legg, "I don't want this man to write an article about the school. 1 don't want him to talk to any more students or any more faculty members." And he bolted from the room.

With the headmaster gone, I tried my question on Director Legg: "What do you mean by 'unique potential?'"
"It's a gut feeling," said Legg.

There are at Hyde all the regular school activities of classes and sports and extracurricular activities, but almost everywhere the system obtrudes itself. It is not the quiet, well-oiled machinery that functions almost imperceptibly at most established preparatory schools; there's a self-consciousness to much of what the students should do naturally; there's a great eagerness to talk, and talk to a stranger - each time I went there I had to break away because the kids wanted to go on talking at me. And the headmaster himself talks incessantly about Hyde, answering questions that nobody has asked about his experience, his background, his work.

What I missed most in the school was a good, honest, open laugh. Eager, intense, nice young people they were, as all young people are. But they didn't see that their gut feelings and their unique potential and their Buchmanite maunderings were comical, and the faculty didn't understand it either. They didn't see that they themselves and the world around them are funny. Worst of all, they didn't see that the whole serious business can be fun.

by J.B. Satterthwaite

Photography for Joe Gauld stories by Tom Jones

Maine Times  1974-08-02: Vol 6 Iss 44

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